This album sometimes sounds more like a promising debut than the fourth album -- not counting the handfuls of solo albums or work with other bands by the individual Go-Go's -- by a bunch of knowledgeable musicians in their 40s. Songs like "Vision of Nowness" and the enchanting "Throw Me a Curve" are autumnal, earthy songs that sound a bit -- to my boy ears -- like advice for the daughters and younger sisters coming after them. "Curve" in particular looks at the skewed values of a society which insists that Kate Winslet is somehow too big. "I'd rather be a pinup girl than zero size," Carlisle sings on one of the few songs ever written by all five women. "Nowness" was the original title of the album and inspired by a compliment paid lead singer Belinda Carlisle by the late Sammy Davis, Jr.
I would love to be a fly on the wall, as they say, at a Go-Go's songwriting session to see how they write, separately and in various combinations with the others, who brings what, when is it a straight music/lyrics division and so on. As usual with the Go-Go's, lead guitarist/pianist Charlotte Caffey and rhythm guitarist/backing singer Jane Wiedlin are the primary composers here. One of the strongest songs is "Insincere", written by Caffey and Wiedlin together -- and that's the combination that gave us "Head Over Heels" and "This Town" from the classic days and "Good Girl" from the underrated era.
The way the Go-Go's method breaks down is this: Caffey and Wiedlin bring the infectious melodies and music best evidenced here on "Insincere" and "Here You Are" (which also includes a great cello break). Bassist Kathy Valentine and Schock bring the drive, they give the opening "La La Land" (which Valentine also co-wrote with Caffey) its throb. Schock collaborated with Wiedlin and an outside writer on one of the best songs on the album, the pissed-off "Automatic Rainy Day". Carlisle is the everywoman. Never exactly Kirsty MacColl as a singer, she does bring a punch to her vocals with the Go-Go's that is more intense and distinct than her solo hits, yet remains sweet. Hers is the voice of the cheerleader grown up, and I do not mean that to be dismissive.
Equal parts mercenary and beatnik, these sisters in Go understand both paying their dues onstage and paying their rents at home. Though I don't doubt that they enjoy working together again and the results are satisfying, Carlisle in particular has been open with the press about the financial considerations that are also a part of the deal. As they must be, again this is said not to be cynical but to be honest: The energy of the five women together is more powerful, and has been more profitable, than almost anything they have achieved alone.
The last time the Go-Go's reunited, on Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's, they recorded a handful of new songs to include on that 1994 repackage of their big pop hit singles and album tracks. The album and tour was apparently a miserable experience for the band, but I thought the new material was the equal or better of anything they did in their heyday and remains underrated. It also made me intensely curious to hear additional contemporary material by the band. The music on God Bless the Go-Go's is as entertaining as anything when they were hitting the charts, only some of the lyrics are not quite as intoxicatingly bubbly and fresh as even a few years ago. "No matter where you go / Here you are" and "Have a nice life," from two different songs here, are stale lyrical ideas that could have come from a movie or sitcom around the time the band first broke up.
So now we're all seven years older and the Go-Go's have released a new album. Do they still rock strong? Damn straight they do. Having started out punks and become New Wave, they now sound alternative-and something's got to be an alternative to Limp Bizkit, God knows.